Sweden urges protesters to take it online during pandemic

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - The Swedish government on Thursday urged its citizens to take their fight to the internet after thousands in the capital defied coronavirus restrictions to protest against racism and U.S. police violence.

Demonstrators bearing signs like “Black Lives Matter” gathered for several hours at a square in the heart of Stockholm during Wednesday afternoon to show support for George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who was killed by police.

Pandemic-hit Sweden has a ban on public gatherings of more than 50 people. While COVID-19 deaths have slowed since the peak in early April, healthcare resources are still strained.

Home Affairs Minister Mikael Damberg said it was a democratic right to protest but that the rules from the Health Agency must be respected.

“I would urge anyone who wants to protest against racism to use digital media instead. Otherwise, many people risk getting sick and dying,” he said in a written comment to Reuters.

More than 4,500 people have died in the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Sweden, many times more relative to the size of the population than in neighbouring Nordic countries.

Floyd, who was unarmed, died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, and event that has set off the biggest anti-racism protests seen in the United States in decades.

Reporting by Johan Ahlander; Editing by Angus MacSwan